5 things you didn't know about your data centres' climate footprint

Sep 4, 2023

5 things you didn't know about your data centres' climate footprint

Sep 4, 2023

Everyday your company is sending information to data centres across the UK - or maybe globe - to be processed. This could be data associated with cloud services - think all of the cloud products you use in the day-to-day, including websites and apps - to data sent for a specific purpose; e.g. you may be modelling future scenarios, crunching the numbers on some structural engineering, mining your customer data for insights or doing some intensive medical or climate research. The media we consume is also delivered by data centres, and a lot of the content is created there too (all 3D rendering for example - which is surprisingly processor intensive). But have you ever really thought about the wider impact this is having on our world?

We’ve put together our ‘top 5’ things you need to know about your data centres’ climate footprint, but there’s even more insights out there showing the real impact these gigantic warehouses have on our lives and our world. 

Here we go…

1. In 2022 data centres accounted for at least 12% of the UK’s electricity consumption

This equates to 41.11TWh a year, according to Carbon3IT. This means they’re taking up a massive chunk of the country’s supply when they could be more efficient. This is all to do with a number of pieces of IT equipment which are critical for them to function: Storage drives, monitors, servers, lights all gobble up electricity. On top of this, the equipment needs to be cooled which consumes even more power. All of this adds up, making centres less ‘green’ than you may think. 

The stats are worrying: Data centres contribute 2% of global GHG emissions. And they also create electronic waste - otherwise known as e-waste - which accounts for 70% of toxic waste and 2% of solid waste globally. This is in terms of the equipment they need to get rid of, for instance in a mass upgrade in facilities.

If your business is currently using the cloud, like AWS, Azure or Google Cloud, you’re playing a role in this too - Sorry! But your company is sending its data to these centres which in turn are consuming  electricity. These corporations may seem energy efficient, but in reality it’s not usually the case. Their electricity usage comes from fossil fuels and more sustainable alternatives need to be put in place to lower their carbon impact. Nobody is off the hook…

2. The waste heat from a typical data centre could provide hot water for 11,000 homes

And data centres use…wait for it…5 million gallons of water every single day. 

We’re facing a cost of living crisis with many families struggling to pay their household bills, worrying when their next bill will come through the door or be debited from their account. There are stories of parents even having to choose between heating their homes and buying food. The UK is a developed nation and this shouldn’t be happening. Companies can play a practical role in trying to solve this big issue by changing the way they process their data, moving away from the cloud giants to more sustainable cloud alternatives.

3. They’re taking up grid capacity and even preventing new housing being built

Why? Because there just isn’t enough power to go round. This is a massive issue as we all know young people are struggling to buy homes and people who live in the capital are facing a crisis - no-one can afford housing there, because - well - it’s unaffordable.

This is a big social issue, one that desperately needs solving and could be helped by decentralising data centres and the way firms’ use the cloud.

4. By 2030 data centres will consume 8% of the world’s electricity supply

The research shows that more and more energy will be needed to meet companies' needs and human consumption. For example, our internet use is only set to increase, it’s estimated by 2025 every person in first world countries will have at least one interaction with a data centre EVERY 18 seconds of their life. This may sound a little crazy, but when you think about it our lives revolve around screens right now: smartphones, laptops, tablets, smart TVs etc. With IoT and AI on the rise technology will be embedded more and more into our daily lives.

On top of our headline stat, The European Commission projects data centres will account for 3.2% of electricity demand within the EU, an 18.5% jump from 2018! Cooling accounts for 20-60% of the overall electricity consumption. 

In terms of business - even non-tech companies - your data, as well as online presence, will become even more fundamental. This means so will your data processing. You will need this for business success and it’s what the buyer will expect, and you will have to be where your customers are - and that’s on the internet.

5. There’s a big lack of regulation

Governments have implemented electricity decarbonisation policies, but there still is little regulation focused on reducing data centres’ emissions footprint although this is changing, it’s not quick enough. This ‘footprint’ is at the highest it has ever been, and only going to grow as more energy is needed to power these massive warehouses of servers. Most of this energy is powered by fossil fuels. And we all know that’s not a good thing.

And finally - if you were wondering - these are the countries with the most data centres. The UK is in third place:

US: 2701
Germany: 487
UK: 456
China: 443
Canada: 328

Find out how your business can be more sustainable using heata by talking to our team today 👇

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